It’s a telling thing that the most successful hearings the Democrats have held during the Trump administration thus far have taken place behind closed doors.
If you can control who testified, what questions get asked and what information gets released, things seem to work out swimmingly. You can’t do that when the hearings are public, however, no matter how few people are watching.
The Comey hearing was a disaster. The Mueller hearing was even worse because at least Comey didn’t seem like he was the victim of mentally diminishing returns. And while the Trump impeachment inquiry hearings have just begun, let’s face some facts: The way this is going, the streak is intact.
“Opening Day of the impeachment hearings hardly hit blockbuster status, generating middling viewer interest compared with other Trump-era political hearings,” Neil Rothschild and Sara Fischer wrote for Axios.
Michael Goodwin from the New York Post was more critical: “Tuesday wasn’t much help. As they did in the first hearings last week, Dems again failed to make the Ukraine issue the crime of the century or even of the Trump presidency. Their hyperbolic descriptions are not even close to the pedestrian evidence they’re producing.”
It’s a bit worse than that. Not only are the Democrats missing, but the Republicans are hitting. Take Rep. John Ratcliffe of Texas, who turned the bribery charges the Democrats have been trying to hit Donald Trump with around and noted that the only bribery reference in testimony was about former Vice President Joe Biden.
Bribery, as Ratcliffe noted, is the new Democrat go-to — something that I’m sure has nothing to do with recent polling that shows “bribery” elicits more of a reaction than “quid pro quo” with voters.
“In a press conference last Thursday, speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi said that President Trump committed the impeachable offense of bribery evidenced in his July 25th call transcript with President Zelensky,” the Texas representative said while questioning National Security Council member Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Jennifer Williams, an aide of Vice President Pence’s who heard the call.
“In concert with that, multiple Democratic members of this committee gave TV and radio interviews over this past week discussing how the president’s conduct supported his impeachment for committing bribery.
“All of which struck me as very odd because, for the longest time, this was all about quid pro quo according to the whistleblower complaint. But after witness after witness began saying there was no quid pro quo, or even that quid pro quo was not even possible, we saw a shift from the Democrats. They briefly started to refer to the president’s conduct on the July 25th call as extortion. And now it’s shifted again last week to bribery.”
“Ms. Williams, you used the word ‘unusual’ to describe the president’s call on July 25th,” he continued.
“Lt. Col. Vindman used the word ‘inappropriate,’ ‘improper.’ I’ve word searched. Each of your transcripts and the word ‘bribery’ or ‘bribe’ doesn’t appear anywhere in that. Ms. Williams, you didn’t — you’ve never used the word ‘bribery’ or ‘bribe’ to explain President Trump’s conduct, correct?”
“Yes, sir,” she replied.
“Col. Vindman, you haven’t either?” Ratcliffe asked.
“That is correct,” he responded.
“The problem is in an impeachment inquiry or that the speaker of the house says is all about bribery, where bribery is the impeachable offense, no witness has used the word ‘bribery’ to describe President Trump’s conduct, none of them,” Ratcliffe said. “These aren’t all of the deposition transcripts. These are just the 10 that had been released.”
Yet, Rep. Ratcliffe found there hadn’t been any mention of bribery in terms of President Trump’s conduct. However, there had been one mention of bribery during the hearings. Just not in a way that the Democrats would like.
“In fact, in these 3,500 pages of sworn deposition testimony and just these 10 transcripts released thus far, the word ‘bribery’ appears in these 3,500 pages exactly one time, and ironically it appears not in a description of President Trump’s alleged conduct. It appears in the description of Vice President Biden’s alleged conduct,” he said.
Oh, well, there’s that. You know, the whole conflict of interest thing involving Joe Biden, Burisma and Ukrainian prosecutors.
There are plenty of reasons for the Democrat pivot from quid pro quo to bribery. Part of it, I’m sure, had to do with the fact that a quid pro quo isn’t necessarily impeachable unless you prove another fun Latin phrase, mens rea — that is to say, a guilty mind.
If President Trump had withheld aid or refused a visit for Ukrainian President Zelensky because of corruption concerns, there’s no actual crime.
Bribery, meanwhile, is a prima facie crime. I mean, there’s no evidence that the president bribed anyone, but it sounds serious and that’s the whole point of these facile proceedings. The polling looks good, as Rep. Devin Nunes has pointed out. Why not?
Well, for starters, it’s not going to make Joe Biden look good. And that’s just for starters.
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